ANIMAL rights campaigners have claimed Scottish farmers are using a loophole in EU law to keep calves barely a few weeks old packed into lorries for 100-hour journeys to the continent.

According to figures obtained by The Times, more than 3,000 calves were sent from Scotland to Spain last year, a trip that takes between 90 and 120 hours.

The young males are reportedly taken from their mothers before being weaned, and when they arrive at their destination are likely to spend a few months in barren enclosures, with no bedding, where they are fed an “iron-deficient diet” of mostly milk to produce “white veal”, according to Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), an animal welfare group.

The group also say their research shows calves are not well adapted to cope with being transported. According to CIWF, the calves’ immune systems are not fully developed and they are not able to control their body temperature and so are susceptible to heat and cold stress. They also claim the animals suffer weight loss and illness and that many die during transportation.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency, who released the figures under Freedom of Information legislation, did not say which ports were being used, but the paper claims the timings suggest that the calves travelled via Ireland and France, taking two ferry journeys and three road trips.

EU rules mean unweaned calves are allowed to travel for nine hours followed by a one-hour rest stop, which can be on the lorry, then up to another 11 hours. They must then be unloaded for 24 hours but, after that, the journey can be resumed and the same time intervals repeated indefinitely.

Penny Middleton, policy manager of National Farmers Union Scotland, said the calves were sent to Spain because Britons did not eat as much veal.

She added: “They are transported under very strict conditions and there will be a lot of breaks. Particularly with very young animals, if it’s not done well you won’t get a quality product at the end of it.”

In March, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) reported £573 million worth of spending on beef and veal in 2016, up three per cent on the previous year.

Animal charity OneKind said animals were often transported further, after arriving at a European destination, and so faced even longer journey times.

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “We believe that there should be no extended transport of live food animals for slaughter. Animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to the point of rearing.

“Animals travelling to slaughter should be transported for one planned journey of no more than eight hours or 500km. It is the Society’s belief no live animals should be imported or exported for slaughter.”

Live exports have often caused controversy. In the mid-90s there were huge protests, with thousands of animal rights campaigners taking part. There were often clashes with police and protester Jill Phipps was killed when she ran towards a lorry carrying veal calves and was crushed under its wheels.

It was only when exports from the UK were banned in 1996 over European fears of Mad Cow Disease entering the food chain that the protests died down.

The ban was lifted in 2006, and though there have been some demonstrations, the public anger has never been quite the same.

In many countries, such as the UK, veal production is closely linked to the dairy trade. Veal is the meat from calves, mostly male dairy calves, which are often thought unsuitable for beef production.

The biggest EU veal producer is France at 1.6million calves per year.